Temperatures are soaring across South Asia, testing dangerous thresholds. How much is climate change to blame? It’s becoming an ‘obsolete question,’ one scientist says.
A street hawker squatted on the sidewalk and struggled for breath. A construction worker moved slowly, careful not to pass out. A house painter was home sick, losing out on several day’s wages.
I met them all on a reporting trip to India in the summer of 2018. I had gone to report on the effects of a warming planet on what is soon to be the world’s most populous country. Extreme heat, I learned, was destroying the health and livelihoods of India’s working poor. And if global greenhouse gas emissions continued to grow, the scientific models were telling us at the time, the combination of heat and humidity could be literally unbearable.
Nearly every year since then, India has witnessed extraordinary spikes in temperatures. This year, though, the heat is unrelenting across a vast swath of the country, and it’s raising an urgent question: Is it even possible to protect people for a future of such extreme heat?